rock of ages, cleft for me

We sang this hymn a few weeks ago at church, and I’ve sung it many times before. This time, though, the word “cleft” really stood out to me. First off, it seems like a pretty old-school word that nobody in 2011 uses in their natural vocabulary. I mean, there are lots of old “hymnal-ish” words I sing at church and don’t usually take time to consider what I am meaning by singing them. Like the line in “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” that says “Here, I raise my Ebenezer.” I mean, probably 90% of the church thinks of A Christmas Carol and Scrooge when they sing that line.

So I was thinking of what that phrase “cleft for me” means, and I wrote it down so I would look it up later. And I did. And I found it helpful, so I thought I’d share. :)

The line is: “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.” So figuratively, Christ is a solid, immovable, steady, unchanging rock, and has something to do with being “cleft” or “cleaved” on for me – so there’s a split in the rock that I can hide in. OK. Still lost on “cleft” a little.

cleft: noun [kleft] definition: 1. a space or opening made by or as if by splitting, 2. split or sever (something), esp. along a natural line or grain, 3. make a way through (something) forcefully, as if by splitting it apart

That last definition was what I was looking for. The significance of the gospel in the hymn Rock of Ages. Christ was “cleft” – split apart, apart from the Father, in order to make a way, forcefully!, through sin. He made a hiding place for me, a way, for me to be found in Christ, and with the Father.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law’s commands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
when mine eyes shall close in death,
when I soar to worlds unknown,
see thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee.

7 thoughts on “rock of ages, cleft for me

  1. Greetings from Wordwise Hymns. Your comments caught my eye because I posted an article on “Rock of Ages” myself this morning. Great hymn. And I appreciate your determination to check out the meaning of the word “cleft.” I know that some churches are turning away from the hymn book because of some “old-fashioned” words. But I think there’s a better approach: To explain words that may be a bit unusual. This can be done briefly, by the one leading the service. Then all can sing with greater understanding. God bless.

  2. Hi Jenny…
    You might consider the analogy for the cleft rock from Exodus 33:22 as God hid Moses in the Cleft of the Rock while He caused His glory to pass by.

    It is akin to us being IN Christ so that we can stand in the presence of God. A beautiful thought.

    If any man is IN CHRIST he is a new creation, as Paul said.

    I just stumbled on your blog as I was looking for some meaning in a different verse of that song and thought I would share.

  3. Hi. Thanks, Steve. I was just reading Exodus 32 and was trying understand the phrase. So googled the phrase and I too stumbled on this blog. Would love to hear more if you can share. I thought of the covenant concept as well, namely, how god cuts or splits to establish the covenant relationship.

  4. As man cannot see God and live I think God gave Moses a picture of who he really is in chapter 34 verse six the Lord passed before him and proclaimed the Lord the Lord God merciful and gracious long-suffering and abounding in goodness and truth keeping mercy for thousands forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin………….

    In a way I don’t need right now to see God because I see what the Lord Jesus Christ did for me and everything above is a picture of Jesus Christ.

    Do you think that’s what Moses saw when he was in the cleft of the rock?

  5. I know this is 3 years old but I’m just now seeing this. The word “cleft” is hugely significant for me in multiple ways. My son was born with a cleft lip and palate and I never examined this song until I knew I was carrying him. After crying a lot, I see hidden meaning. I wasn’t sure I was able to handle something like this as a mom, but God equipped me. Through this cleft journey, I have been able to cleave to God for guidance and wisdom…or “hide myself in thee” as the song states. Thanks for writing this.

    1. A child’s cleft palate is good example of something or someone being separated into two parts and whereas the sum total of those two parts are equal to to the whole part.. as is God himself and Jesus Christ although separate are the same.. and then further, you would say the same for the trinity, which of course includes our Holy Father.

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